It is difficult to assess a revival. Sinners were undeniably saved. The church was revived. They were filled with men, women, and children who prayed. Sinners were brought to see their sin and therefore their need of a savior. The extent to which the community was impacted was enormous. Drinking houses were closed and many new believers went into the ministry and to the mission field.
These evidences may not be enough to call the Hebrides Revival an actual revival, but there remains an objective reality that is verifiable and therefore this particular revival has an abiding significance for the church today.
The revival on the Isle of Lewis stands as one of the last great outpourings of the Holy Spirit in Scotland. Many reminisce on this revival with nostalgia of a bygone era of Christianity. For some, it is a reminder of the loss of theological acumen. For others, it is a longing to return to tent meetings and bringing in preachers who are specially called to preach so that revival may come as though man can control the Spirit of God. Regardless, the church must look to the Scriptures, as well as to history, to better understand why the Spirit is not moving as often as he used to.
The loss of Calvinistic theology coupled with the Reformed expectation of revival has been well documented by men like Iain H. Murray. The Hebrides Revival of 1949-1952 is a perfect case in point. In his epilogue, Tom Lennie asserts with a hint of regret that the 1920’s was “the last decade in which numerous significant revivals occurred.” He recounts future movements of the Spirit but a quick reading of those movements will show that it was of the man-made revivalism for which they can be attributed. There was no lasting fruit from those movements.
Thus, the Hebrides Revival serves as a hinge upon which Christianity in Scotland transitioned from a Christ-centered approach to a man-centered approach. With the Calvinistic foundation all but destroyed after Duncan Campbell’s ministry, the easy believe-ism and simple “decide for Jesus” theology of the itinerant revivalists has bankrupted the churches. No longer do Christians pray for revival because all one has to do is decide to follow Jesus and all will be well.
Until the church in Scotland returns to the pre-World War II days of theological belief, it is safe to assume that this revival in particular will continue as the last of the great movements of the Holy Spirit. While this time frame has been studied at length (more so in Scotland than America), it must be understood that the revival occurred despite man’s best efforts.
Billy Graham arrived in Glasgow in 1955 just three years or so after the end of the Hebrides Revival. Though he preached to tens of thousands, his “revivals” had no impact on the spiritual climate of Scotland as the Hebrides Revival did. In fact, Lennie states,
Church membership started to decline again within two years of Graham’s visit. . . . While evangelical awakenings still occurred from time to time in various places, they were much less frequent than in the 1880-1940 period. In addition, they were generally much less powerful and influential then (sic) their predecessors, and they were largely confined . . . where the Church played a more prominent part in community life.
It is beyond refutation that a revival did indeed occur in the Outer Hebrides from 1949-1952. Lord willing, the Spirit will return to the island where the men and women who remember this revival will be found praying for a fresh renewing of the Spirit.
What the Church Can Learn
To say the church cannot learn anything positive from this revival would be a misnomer. Though many are uncomfortable with what has been shared concerning the events in the Hebrides from 1949-1952, one cannot discount the fact that personal testimonies do abound.
The church should expect revival, and she should pray for revival, and she should preach for revival, but she must also get out of her own way if she is to see genuine revival. A high view of both Scripture and God must be reclaimed before the prayers of the faithful can expect to be answered.
Though Reformed Christians decry the rise of modern-day revivalism, the fact remains that very few regions in Scotland have witnessed a revival akin to what happened in the Hebrides regardless of theological persuasion. It is easy to point at someone else who is not of a particular tribe and claim they are doing it wrong. It is difficult, however, to see objectively the failures of one’s own tribe. Although there is beyond a shadow of a doubt a secularization of the church taking place at an unprecedented rate today, there is still room at the altar for all Christians to gather together and pray that the Lord would once again send revival.
The church needs to learn afresh that revival transcends denominational boundaries. The church needs to understand once again that the Holy Spirit cannot be contained or scheduled. Revival is not something a church can put on the calendar as though the Holy Spirit is obligated to show up from seven to nine in the evening Monday through Friday during a particular week of the year. The Lord uses means to accomplish his goals, but he is not obligated to perform as man demands.
When Duncan Campbell arrived in the Hebrides, he exclaimed that the Lord was already active and present before he showed up because of the prayers of the saints. How many pastors today can say about the members they serve let alone actually think that it is the case that their congregation is praying for genuine revival? Instead of program after program to elicit responses, it seems the church would be better served if she prayed in such a way that she knew she was reliant upon the Lord for her very existence.
Finally, the church can learn from the revival in the Hebrides that when the Spirit of God shows up, everything will change. Change is not something most Christians look forward to due to comfort. Sanctification is precisely just that, however! If Christians are to become more like Christ (Rom 8:29), then change is necessary. Sadly, for a myriad of reasons, many unbelievers populate local church memberships. There is no change because there is no life.
As is often the case when revival takes place, many who will have claimed to be believers will finally come to a genuine salvation that leaves no doubt in the minds of everyone that something has happened. It remains to be determined whether the church needs a revival or a spiritual awakening. It may be safe to say that there is a need for both as those who were genuinely born again have fallen into a slumber while many who think they are alive are spiritually dead and do not know it.
In studying the Hebrides Revival of 1949-1952, the church should pray collectively the words of David in Psalm 51, “Cast [us] not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from [us]. Restore to [us] the joy of your salvation, and uphold [us] with a willing spirit. Then [we] will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you” (Ps 51:11-13).
 Lennie, Glory in the Glen, 485.
 Lennie, Glory in the Glen, 485.